New York City has been tagged with many epithets through the years and it all seems to date back to Washington Irving, one who was recognized abroad as America's first man of letters.New Yorkers owe to Irving, an author of numerous books and essays in the 19th century, one of our most frequently applied nicknames. In 1807-1808 Irving published a periodical called "Salimagundi," and in one issue the name Gotham was given to New York. The term Gotham had had a long history as the proverbial place of fools and thus did Irving dub our city, as one populated by fools, though his love for our city was demonstrated and well-known.In 1809 Washington Irving wrote a satire called "A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the Ends of the Dutch Dynasty." He published his work under a pseudonym, a fictional historian named Knickerbocker. A burlesque of the early Dutch settlers lifestyle, it featured a description of the Dutchmen in baggy britches, which in our day translated to knickers." By the mid 1800's knickerbocker became synonymous with New Yorkers and survives today in basketball with a team called the Knicks.Since 1971 another nickname has eclipsed Gotham's popularity. The term, the Big Apple, has an uncertain history and is the subject of one of the most frequently asked questions of visitors to our city. The phrase was adopted by the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau as part of a promotion to have the city known as the Big Apple. It was an attempt to recast the ambiance of our city in a more positive light. Though the commissioner was not the one to originally coin the phrase, he is credited with popularizing it.The perennial interest in the term "the Big Apple" has fostered research into its origin even today. In the 1920s it was a newspaper writer, John Fitzgerald, who wrote a horse racing column called "Around the Big Apple." He is now credited with its origin. Fitzgerald revealed he first heard the term from stable hands in New Orleans who referred to New York race tracks as "The Big Apple" - the goal of the racing world. The corner where Fitzgerald lived in our city for 40 years has been designated officially Big Apple Corner, a recognition given by our city government.The term Big Apple was used in the 30s by jazz musicians as a synonym for New York City, but no one knows how that came to be, though it is also linked to a new dance craze called The Big Apple, which originated in a South Carolina church hall frequented by blacks and which entered popular American culture at the famed Savoy Ballroom in Harlem.The story of the use of the word apple in another context in New York City in the early 1800s links it to a French refugee, Eve (Evelyn) Claudine de Saint-Evremond, who had a staff of beautiful women who were called Eve's Apples. Eve was to have married the son of Alexander Hamilton, but for some undisclosed reason the ceremony was called off at the last minute.A refugee from France's impoverished aristocracy, Eve's beauty gained her society's favor and she is said to have been assisted by her admirers to open a salon in an exclusive residential section of the city.Years later William Jennings Bryan used the apple epithet in an 1892 campaign speech describing New York City as "the foulest rotten apple on the tree of decadent federalism."According to the Society for New York History, after the turn of the century the Apple Marketing Board, alarmed by declining sales, launched "a product positioning campaign" publicizing such slogans as "As American as Apple Pie," and "An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away," thus rehabilitating the apple connotation. By the time of its adoption in 1971, the term the Big Apple had come full circle as an appellation for the world's most famous city.Joan Brown Wettingfeld is a historian and free-lance writer.
©2005 Community News Group
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